In October 2018, we asked one of our Design Training attendees, St Michael’s, also known as Byker Church in Newcastle, if they wanted to be part of the live projects program. Empowering Design Practices took on the nominal costs for partaking in program, and members of the team went to Sheffield to speak to all the live project students on Engagement in Design. We also had several face-to-face and skype meetings with the group that was assigned to St Michael’s church to provide support and advice about design engagement activities.
Below is a blog by the students that worked with St Michael’s talking about their experience. You can also read about their work on the Live Projects website.
For more about EDP's work with Live Projects see here.
Located on the edge of Newcastle’s famous Byker Wall, St Michael’s Church had laid empty for over a decade and hence services have been held in the nearby former bakery unit. Its rundown state forced the church community to erect a tent inside the building for shelter, where they have been temporarily worshipping. They have now been awarded a £147,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with most of the money aimed at fixing the leaking roof. Our role was to help the church community to receive further funding for the church’s regeneration, to allow for its long-term utilisation, hoping to make it a self-sufficient building.
Our design process was iterative throughout the course of the six weeks. We developed the motto: “Designed with you…for you”. This describes the aim of our project, which was to work collaboratively with all parties involved. Given the community-focused ethos of our proposal, it was essential that every major move, from early brief development through design proposals was a direct result of interacting with the church community. This posed a significant challenge associated with costs. In order for us to achieve a community-led design approach, we needed to visit Newcastle multiple times, and needed additional funding from Empowering Design Practices, who kindly facilitated our request. As a result, we managed to visit the site 5 times over the 6 weeks duration of the project. Without the support of EDP, could not have achieved to interact weekly with the congregation and vicar. These were however crucial in gaining community feedback and helping to shape our design development.
The workshops involved design brief testing, a design workshop, a design and craft workshop and a final, interactive community presentation, using virtual reality. We regularly consulted with EDP before these workshops which helped us to prepare specific engagement approaches, such as listening to ‘side-talk’ and truly, yet sensitively observing the community. In between the workshops, we progressed the design following the feedback from the community and client. The community engagement process created a collaborative design approach which became particularly inspiring.
Below, you may read a brief summary of each of these visits:
1st Visit : BRIEF DEVELOPMENT familiarising ourselves with the site / developing our brief
- Our first site visit was about meeting the clients and understanding the unique qualities of the Byker scheme and recognising the hidden potential of the church.
- We developed our brief informed by this visit.
- During our second visit, we attended a Sunday worship and a community meal to test our brief and understand the congregation’s needs.
- This informed us that our proposal at the time was too focused on the community aspects and did not prioritise the Christian ethos enough. As a result, we restructured our brief to respond to the feedback.
- In the third visit, we discussed design options with the client.
- We organised community-led design activities, allowing the girls’ group, who are regular church users, to think about the future program of the church. This craft-making workshop used the physical model as the basis for creating conversations around the church's future through the kids' eyes.
- Our fourth visit took place during the Youth Club, which the church regularly hosts each Wednesday. The workshop was with younger children, where they painted on acrylic panels. These mimic stained glass, and were going to form our proposed partition elements in the church, providing the children of Byker with a sense of ownership for the future of the church
- We also presented three design proposals to the client and received detailed feedback concerning spatial aesthetics and relationships.
- We held an interactive presentation during our final visit, using VR to help the community truly understand and experience our design proposal. The presentation was met with a lot of enthusiasm and attention, especially from children.
- The way our project ideas have evolved over the 5 workshops is a direct reflection of the community’s influence.
- Met with the church architect to discuss the current project, which will become a tool to secure future funding for realising the church’s vision.
Our design is the materialisation of a collaborative design process between us, the client and the church users. Given the church’s grade II listed status, it was vital for our design to be non-intrusive and reversible. According to our client, Rev. Phil Medley, our proposal was creative, yet “truly attainable”, as we managed to “really listen to what the community had to say”.
Although we are very proud of the physical outcome of our Live Project, we truly believe that the success of the project lies in its ability of changing the Byker community’s perception of the church. Upon our first arrival, we were introduced to a church with multiple problems, whose community struggled with envisaging its true potential. We believe that our Live Project provides the community with a sense of optimism about the church’s future through offering realistic and affordable design interventions. Ultimately, we hope that our proposal will actually make a change in the Byker community, and help the church receive future funding.
The opportunity to work with a live client was invaluable as it allowed us students, to take initiative to create a positive change. The experience also provided an opportunity to explore aspects that are not always encountered in practice such as community engagement and participation. The Vicar was most kind and consistently provided detailed feedback concerning the spatial aesthetics and relationships throughout the six-week period. By the end of the six weeks, we felt that the design gave the Vicar a sense of achievability. Additionally, working with EDP supported our work immensely due to their research within the field and advice with how to progress most effectively with the community. Overall, the live project was a truly rewarding and memorable experience.